Ending days of speculation, the UK government on Tuesday declared that wearing a face mask or face covering will become mandatory in shops across England from July 24 and a fine of up to 100 pounds would be imposed on those not complying with the rule as the country eases out of the coronavirus lockdown.

The enforcement powers for the new policy will be handed to the police and anyone failing to wear a face covering while shopping will be subject to a fine of up to GBP 100, or GBP 50 if paid speedily within 14 days.

“There is growing evidence that wearing a face covering in an enclosed space helps protect individuals and those around them from coronavirus,” a 10 Downing Street spokesperson said.

“The Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) has been clear that people should be wearing face coverings in shops and we will make this mandatory from July 24,” the spokesperson said.

While shop workers will be encouraged to prompt customers to comply, they will not be expected to enforce the rules, allaying retail union concerns about their involvement in the enforcement process. The British Retail Consortium said it hoped the announcement “will make shoppers feel even more confident about returning to the High Street”.

The decision was fully outlined by UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock in a House of Commons statement on Tuesday, following days of conflicting statements from Cabinet ministers.

“The death rate of sales and retail assistants is 75 per cent higher amongst men and 60 per cent higher amongst women than in the general population. There is also evidence that face coverings increase confidence in people to shop,” said the minister, who urged that shopkeepers and police should work together to enforce the new rules.

“Should an individual without an exemption refuse to wear a face covering, a shop can refuse them entry and can call the police if people refuse to comply. The police have formal enforcement powers and can issue a fine,” he said.

However, police chiefs have expressed concerns about having to enforce these additional rules. John Apter, Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, wrote on Twitter that “we simply don’t have the resources” to enforce compulsory masks.

The confirmation follows Johnson’s intervention over the issue on Monday, when he called on people to wear masks while the government considers enforcement measures.

“I think people should be wearing (face masks) in shops. And, in terms of how we do that, whether we make it mandatory or not, we’ll be looking at the guidance- we’ll be seeing a little bit more in the next few days,” he had said.

The Opposition Labour Party, which has been in favour of stricter enforcement of face coverings as a measure to curb the transmission of coronavirus, had called for more clarity after some contrary messages on compulsory face coverings.

“The government has been slow and muddled again over face coverings,” said Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth.

“Given the government’s own guidance issued on May 11 advised in favour of face masks, many will ask why yet again have ministers been slow in making a decision in this pandemic, and why it’ll take another 11 days before these new guidelines to come into force,” he said.

London mayor Sadiq Khan, who has been campaigning for the move for some time, called the government’s “confused communications” on the subject a “disgrace”.

“We can’t afford to wait another day and the government should bring this policy in immediately – further delay risks lives,” he urged.

At present, it is mandatory to wear face coverings only on public transport in most regions of the UK but there has been a growing debate around a wider mandatory approach as Britain undergoes a phased return to business as usual after the lockdown imposed on March 23.

In Scotland, face masks in shops have been mandatory since July 10 and while shoppers in Wales and Northern Ireland are not currently required to wear them, both regions have said this will be kept under review.

In line with the rules on public transport, children under 11 and those with certain disabilities will be exempt from face coverings in shops.

Many scientists have been keen on a rethink over face masks as the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations on the issue were also updated in favour of their use in enclosed spaces to curb the transmission of the deadly virus.

UK-based Indian-origin Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan was among those who had warned that the UK was lagging behind other countries in the mandatory use of face masks to prevent the rapid spread of coronavirus.

“Just treat it as another item of clothing that is part of the new normal and wear it whenever you cannot socially distance safely. It is the right thing to do, and a small price to pay, to help keep infections down and the economy open in the pandemic,” he said.

The latest move will bring England into line not only with Scotland but also other major European nations like Spain, Italy and Germany.

Source : News 18

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